Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Judith Miller opened her Sept. 25 BYU forum address by commenting on the excitement of speaking to a crowd of students. “I feel like Taylor Swift, or Taylor Swift’s mom, this is very different than my job at Fox.”
After the laughter settled, Miller — an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, City Journal contributing editor, former New York Times reporter and Fox News commentator — spoke on the business and political realities of journalism in the modern day.
Miller said her passion for news and journalism inspired a recent study into the business realities for smaller, local newspapers nationwide, many of which are struggling to keep the lights on.
“The number of local newspapers has dropped from 9,000 in 2004 to 7,000 in 2018, and the vast majority are not dailies,” she said.
In the last 15 years, thousands of newspapers have been moved to weekly or biweekly circulation, according to Miller. The few papers that survive are left with fewer reporters and resources to cover the news that truly matters. Miller referred to these papers as “ghost papers,” or organizations that can’t do what is necessary to report the relevant news.
Miller emphasized the importance of good journalism and noted that without it, the public is left with what they see broadcasted on their local television news, which often focuses on less-important topics and trends.
“TV news makes the unimportant interesting. There is too little effort spent trying to make the important interesting,” Miller said. Her accompanying slideshow also noted 25 million Americans watch local news every night.
She said important local news topics like government and city council meetings are only given 22 seconds of airtime while crime stories — which Miller compared to cat videos — can be given up to three minutes.
Miller also said that although the Internet can be helpful in distributing information, that information can be “unvetted, uneven and surveys show that Americans don’t trust the internet nearly as much as they do what is printed in their local newspapers.”
Social media has also played an important role in creating false news and miscommunication, and yet “51 percent of Americans now admit that this is where we get our news,” she said.
According to Miller, cyber attacks are the “new modern hybrid warfare.” She said Russia uses cyber attacks to influence politics in Georgia and Ukraine and noted that this could be the United States’ future.
“What happens in Ukraine could and will happen to us in the 2020 presidential election if we don’t take preventative measures,” Miller said.
On discerning what is real and what is fake, Miller said all news organizations have some kind of bias. She encouraged students to read multiple sources, even those which conflict with their own personal opinions, to better evaluate information and find the truth.
Next week’s devotional address will be given by Scott Miller, dean of the BYU College of Humanities and professor of Asian and Near Eastern Languages. He will address students on Oct. 2 at the Marriott Center at 11:05 a.m. MT.